Category Archives: Alternative History

A Christmas Tail

All animals celebrate Christmas. Bees sing the ‘Old Hundredth’ on Christmas Eve as the animals in the stables and cattle sheds kneel, remembering, in their own way, how they knelt at Bethlehem so long ago. Only occasionally, however, do the human and animal Christmases interact, but when they do the results can be amazing.

December 22nd 1818

The older mice forced a way through the wet vegetation, the young mice and mothers and children followed as the floodwaters rose.
Up and up they climbed, across short cropped grass that gave no cover, they were thankful that the rain kept the hawks away. Then they saw it, a tall building, unlike the barns the humans built for them, but it felt safe.
They crept in, under the door and discovered a perfect mouse home, a perfect mouse sanctuary.

It was a miracle, just before Christmas they had their home. There were plenty of places to nest, mothers settled their babies, children played, running up and down the ropes that had been placed there specially for them to climb, whilst the older mice looked around for food.

And they found it, wonderful food, thick tasty tallow on top of chewy leather.
“Something you can really get your teeth into.” Said one old mouse, as they feasted well into the night.

December 23rd 1818

What are you planning for tomorrow?” The priest asked.

“I have it here.” The young organist patted the folder of music under his arm. 
“I want to run through a couple of pieces before the choir come in, can you pump?”
“Of course.” Replied the priest. He stepped behind the organ and raised the handle, as he brought it down there was a terrible whistling noise. He stopped and the two men bent and examined the organ’s bellows.

All around the church noses poked out of holes, black eyes watched from behind curtains.

“Can it be repaired?”
“Yes, but not by me, or anyone in the village, and not in time for Christmas Eve.” The organist paused.
“The choir can sing some hymns unaccompanied, but there will be no music. For the first time in more than two hundred years there will be no music in the church at Christmas!”

The mice looked at each other in horror, they had heard what the humans said, had they really ruined the humans Christmas?

The men looked at each other in silence, in silence they stood, then the priest said.
“Perhaps there is a way, you play the guitar.”
“But it can’t accompany any of these.”
“No, but there is that poem I wrote, the Christmas one, you said you could set it to music.”
“In less than a day!”
“You had better start straight away then.”

The mice were subdued, and watched as the humans left the church in a hurry.

Christmas Eve 1818

There was a sense of anticipation in the air, something was happening, the mice could feel it. From the oldest mice, who could remember three or even four Christmases, to the youngsters. That afternoon the old tale was told, of the first mouse Christmas, and never had mice listened in greater reverence and wonder. They told of the mice, who played on the rafters in the stable, and brought the gift of laughter to the child in the manger.

Later the humans came, few at first to light the candles, then more and more, filling the pews. There was expectation amongst them too, as if the humans also knew that something very special was about to happen.

And then, the choir gathered at the front of the church, the organist sat and took his guitar. The mice and humans watched as he plucked a few notes. Then all, animal and human, listened for the first time to;

Stille Nacht



Filed under Alternative History, Christmas Musings, Georgian, Historical tales

The Last Fairy

My brother sometimes includes humorous versions of fairy tales in his blog, for example.
So I thought I would write something similar, what if fairies had once existed? And came up with this…..


The Biologist drove over the Mendip Hills on a lovely late summer day, he wondered what the Librarian at Wells Cathedral had to show him. He had known her when they had been at university years ago, and had met a few times since, but she had seemed so excited, so secretive, at what she had found in the library.

What could it be, the Biologist thought it must be some ancient scientific book, but if it was that he wouldn’t be the person to call in, he was an entomologist, not a scientific historian. But the Librarian had been so insistent, he had to come, to see what had been found.

In the village of Podmore he stopped to fill up with petrol, as he paid he picked up the leaflet advertising the local festival.

Podmore Fairy Festival
Podmore, the last home of the Fairies
Make a fairy scarecrow
Best fairy picture
Write a story – What happened to the last fairy

As he drove through the village he smiled to see the fairy scarecrows, big and little, mostly with slightly mad smiles, dressed in a variety of clothing but all with wire mounted wings.

In the cathedral they climbed to the long, elegant library. At the end there was a gap in the bookcases that lined one side of the room. The Librarian explained.

“Last month cracks were noticed in the plaster above the shelves. To see if the cracks ran further down the wall we removed the shelf here. That’s when we found them.” She pointed at a table, on it lay several leather bound books.

“I think they were placed there because the librarian in about 1820, when these shelves were made, had no interest in them but felt they shouldn’t be disposed of. There are several sets of seventeenth and eighteenth century sermons, which are about as exciting as they sound. Then we found this.”

From a shelf, where it had been carefully placed, she lifted a large volume. On the cover was the name ‘E. Glanville’, the Biologist was suddenly very interested.

“We only looked at one or two pages as we could see the contents were very fragile.”

She opened the book, the Biologist gasped in amazement. There was a large pressed plant, he thought a scabious, but stuck around it were several butterflies, their wings were loose and several moved as the page opened. One slid off the page, the Biologist, hands shaking, eased it onto a slip of paper and transferred it back to the book.

“Have you ever seen anything like this?” She asked, “We haven’t and cannot find out anything about books like this or E. Glanville. I wonder who he was?”

“I have only ever seen photographs of books like this, it was the way in which insects were preserved in the seventeenth century. But the books are very fragile, even opening the pages can damage them. As for E. Glanville she’s not a he but a she, Eleanor Glanville, one of the first great entomologists. Only a few of her notes and specimens survive, but it looks as if you have discovered more of them.”

He opened a second page,

“Wonderful,” he said, “She noted where she caught the insect. This one was caught at Priddy.”

The librarian bent forward and saw, in thin brown handwriting ‘Pr’dy’.

As he shut the book he looked up at his friend and said.

“You can guess what I am going to ask you?”

“Yes, I have asked the Chapter and they agree that the books can be lent to the University for study. There will be various conditions but no real difficulties.” She paused, then added, “But there is something else, I don’t quite know what to make of it. It’s in the second volume.”

“Second volume?” Replied the Biologist in dazed delight.

She took down another large book and laid it on the table, then she carefully opened it at a marked page. The Biologist looked down in amazement. The specimen was larger than the others, about ten centimetres long. It was probably an arthropod, with a dark exoskeleton that looked almost like human armour. The hind legs were large, and he wondered if it could have just stood on them alone. The forelimbs were shorter with grasping claws. The head had been distorted by the pressing but it looked very like an armoured human head. And then there were the wings, four wings, wide and translucent, they almost covered the page.

“Do you know what it is?” She asked.

“No, and I don’t think anybody has ever seen anything like this for centuries. The only name I could give it would be mad.”

“I don’t think so.” Replied the librarian, she pointed to the name written at the bottom of the page, ‘P’dmor’.

“I think we know what happened to the last fairy.”


Eleanor Glanville was real, and gave her name to a beautiful little butterfly, the Glanville Fritillary. The way of preserving insects in books was also real, a few, very fragile, very precious examples survive.

But as for the rest ……

Leave a comment

Filed under Alternative History

Cheers – An Alcoholic View of History

There are many different versions of history, a feminist one, a communist one and so on. I would like to propose a new one – an alcoholic view of history.

Sitting one evening in my study, with something interesting in a small glass, I began to muse on the importance of alcohol in human history. Whilst casting my mind round about possible examples, such as the improvement in English glassmaking during the sixteenth century that led to the development of bottled beer and sparkling wine, I finally settled on three key drinks that have shaped the history of the world.

The early explorers, making long sea voyages, suffered greatly from scurvy. An inability to preserve food without destroying vitamin C led to this terrible disease. It had long been known that fresh food could prevent and cure scurvy, but it wasn’t until the latter part of the eighteenth century that British doctors and sea captains finally discovered an effective cure. The most practical was Lime Juice, it worked but was very acidic and difficult to drink on its own. The Royal Navy soon realised that by mixing it with the other staple drink of the Navy, rum, and adding a little sugar a very palatable mixture could be created – now called a Daiquiri after a part of Cuba.

Preserved food, even after the scourge of scurvy had been conquered, was still unpalatable and led to many internal problems. Suitable medicines to deal with these gastric upsets had been developed during the eighteenth century but many were very bitter, hence their generic name ‘Bitters’. Again alcohol came to the rescue, mixed with gin they gave it a lovely roseate colour, the Pink Gin had been invented.

Or arrival in tropical climes, many Europeans fell victim to dreadful diseases of which malaria was chief, an extract of a South American plant was found to help control the diseases, but unfortunately Quinine was terribly bitter. An extract was slightly more palatable, but mixed with gin it proved to be magnificent – Gin and Tonic.

So here is an alcoholic view of history.
Daiquiris and Pink Gin enabled the British to sail the seven seas.
Gin and Tonic allowed them to live anywhere.
And so was the Empire Born!

p.s Would I have come up with this theory if I hadn’t been enjoying something interesting in a small glass? – probably not.


Filed under Alternative History

The First Rocket Scientist

A little while ago I took part in a writing challenge, a short story of 500 words, beginning with the line, “I’ll tell you what you need, and that’s a (rocket scientist).” Words in brackets optional, and if possible set in a  war zone. This is my contribution.

The First Rocket Scientist

“I’ll tell you what you need, and that’s a rocket.”

“What!” Snapped Wellington, “Why on earth would I want a dammed firework.”

Two other officers smiled, the Duke was notoriously short tempered with anyone who wasted his time.

“I’m serious Sir.” The aide continued, “Major Congreve’s rocket artillery. There is no other way we can destroy the fort, and it’s impossible to take it by direct assault.” He paused.

Wellington was silent, he looked up at the French fort. It was brilliantly positioned to command the pass. If he couldn’t take the fort, he couldn’t take his army through the Pyrenees. He decided quickly.

“Get Congreve, have him take his Rocket Artillery onto that ridge, I want that fort destroyed.”

Two hours later a mule train crawled up the ridge, when they reached a small plateau overlooking the fort. Here the engineers began to set up a wooden frame. As they did so two officers took sights on the fort whilst Major Congreve carefully put his rockets together.

The rockets looked like massive fireworks, the head was two foot long, fitted to a wooden stick as tall as a man. One of the officers ran over with the range of the fort, the Major nodded and screwed a fuse into the base of the first rocket. Two men carefully laid it in the frame, the angle was adjusted again and the fuse lit.

Everyone stepped to one side, the rockets were notoriously unsafe, occasionally exploding on the launch frame. There was a cloud of smoke and the rocket shot skywards. The Major watched its flight, stopwatch in hand. It exploded high over the fort.

He turned back and made adjustments to the launch frame, then he picked out another fuse and the rocket was launched. This one went wild, veering off at right angles, Congreve quietly got the next rocket ready.

“I think they’ve spotted us Sir.” Said the young officer who had been watching the fort through a telescope. “Then we must be more accurate than them.” He replied.

Before they could launch another rocket the cannon in the fort fired, there was an explosion a little below them and to the left.

“Good for a first shot.” The major commented, as he lit the fuse on the next rocket.

This one’s flight was perfect, it shot from the frame in a plume of white smoke, made a gentle arc right onto the gun platform of the fort, where it exploded. As the smoke cleared they saw that no one was left standing by the cannon.

Wellington watched smoke rise from the Fort.

“Excellent, the army marches tomorrow, the road is good until we are past those hills”

He pointed with his cane.

“But aren’t we going through the pass?”

“Oh no, far too rough. But now the French will think we are coming that way and defend it, we will take them by surprise.”

Three weeks later the British Army entered France unopposed, the downfall of Napoleon had begun.

As you will realise this is complete fiction, there was no such action when Wellington crossed the Pyrenees into France, and any way Sir William Congreve was never in Spain.

Featured image

Sir William Congreve

He was back in England with the Rocket research team at the Woolwich Arsenal, it was another officer who took the rockets to war.

Featured image

Shoulder patch of the Rocket Artillery

The Congreve rockets were as effective, and as unreliable as described. After the end of the war the rockets found two surprising uses in civilian life. Adapted, they were used around the coast to launch life lines to ships in peril. These rockets saved thousands.

They also became a byword for dangerous inventions. During a parliamentary committee in the 1820’s one member told the engineer George Stephenson.

“No one will want to ride in your steam locomotive, they would be safer riding on one of Colonel Congreve’s Rockets.”

As a result Stephenson called his next engine, probably the most famous of all railway locomotives – “Rocket”.


Filed under Alternative History, Historical tales, Regency